Life at the Tui Blue Hotel was rather tedious I have to say with a looping Groundhog Day daily itinerary so we decided to break out and do something different. A train excursion to the city of Lagos, thirty-five miles or so west of where we were staying at Olhos de Agua.
There was an expensive taxi ride to the railway station at Albufeira one of those taxi rides where I watch the meter ticking away and increasingly panic about the cost and then to compensate inexpensive train tickets to Lagos at less than five euro each return (seniors rate). The price was right but the train was soporifically slow and stopped several times and took over an hour to reach our destination and we arrived just about midday.
I liked it immediately as we walked from the station to the old town. So much nicer than Albufeira with a a retained history, a nostalgia and a satisfying whiff of the past Some of my favourites – aged doors with sun blistered paint and elegant iron balconies, cobbled streets and whitewashed houses. Really lovely, really lovely.
Lagos was once a Moorish city, the capital of the Algarve and one of the most important cities in all of what is now Portugal. How the Moors must have loved life in Iberia, excellent weather (not as hot as North Africa), no deserts, an abundance of fresh water, good fertile soil for crops and not nearly so many flies.
This idyllic lifestyle came to a sudden and abrupt end after the Reconquest when the Moors were forced to abandon their city after a brutal siege by Northern Crusaders. In Spain and Portugal they celebrate the reconquest but in reality it was the replacement of a benevolent and progressive regime with a barbaric and medieval reversal of progress.
Without the Moors the city rapidly became neglected, the port silted up and the city went into a long period of decline. This is something that always intrigues me, it is rather like the Roman Empire, great civilisations provide advancement in human development but Barbarians always come along and tear it down and set progress back several hundred years. Rather like BREXIT in the United Kingdom right now. It really frustrates me because we learn absolutely nothing from history.
What happened to the Ancient Egyptians, the Native Americans of USA, the Classical Greeks, the Romans, they all showed great progress in human development and then they disappeared and the process was reversed. What lies ahead for us I wonder?
Down at the seafront was a statue of Henry the Navigator, quite possibly, no, almost certainly the most famous of all Portuguese sailors and adventurers.
I had seen him before of course in Belem in Lisbon at the The Monument to the Discoveries. Located on the edge of the north bank of the Tagus, the fifty metre (I hate Boris Johnson and I emphatically refuse to go back to imperial measures) high slab of concrete was erected in 1960 to commemorate the five-hundredth anniversary of his death. The monument in the capital city is sculpted in the form of a ship’s prow, with dozens of figures from Portuguese history following a statue of the Infante Henry looking out to the west, perhaps contemplating another voyage of discovery.
The statue in Lagos is rather less spectacular.
Lagos was an important port during the Age of Discovery when Portugal was a major maritime nation as it built a World empire. It competed primarily with neighbours Spain to make discoveries in the New World and in 1494 after years of challenge a Treaty was signed which gave Brazil to Portugal and all the rest to Spain. For Spain this might have seemed like a good idea at the time but it rates as a serious negotiating disaster as it gave up the Amazon rain-forest and all of its riches for the barren Andes of Patagonia.
By the mid nineteenth century Portugal had the fourth largest European Empire but at only 4% of World territory was way behind France (9%), Spain (10%) and Great Britain at a huge 27%. That is a massive amount of land grab but I wonder if the Roman Empire might have been even greater given that the known World was much smaller two thousand years ago.
We spent a very enjoyable afternoon in Lagos, it was different, it wasn’t the tourist Algarve of Vilamoura or Albufeira, much more similar to Silves and Tavira; had a very pleasant pavement lunch and then took the train ride home, had a few stressful moments trying to secure a taxi ride to the hotel but eventually made it back to our accommodation,
We had tired of the hotel catering by this point but had discovered a very nice Portuguese restaurant in the village which served traditional food so were we glad to abandon the school dinner hall tonight and spend an excellent evening with proper food.